By: Jean Johnson for Body1
Care for some carbon monoxide? Or perhaps a flood of the mood altering liquid that destroys brain cells?
Along with keeping our weight down, and our activity and relaxation up, physicians say stay away from the toxins. “Never ever smoke tobacco” goes the warning. And keep the alcohol consumption moderate at no more than two drinks for men, and one drink for women. This good advice, though, often comes without the whys and hows. Yes, we all know we shouldn’t. But exactly why, as the sole proprietors of these highly sophisticated things call bodies, should we avoid this and that. Precisely how does tobacco and excess alcohol rob us of quality lives?
|Learn to lessen and ultimately eliminate your tobacco and alcohol use: |
Moderate alcohol consumption means 2 drinks anywhere from 3-4 days a week to daily for men, and 1 drink at the same rate for women.
One drink = one 12-ounce beer, 1 ounce of liquor (80 proof), a 5 ounce glass of wine, 3 ounces of fortified wine such as brandy, cognac or sherry.
Avoid alcohol. Drink hydrating fluids instead.
Find new ways to relieve stress and boredom. Get a smooth worry stone to hold in your hand.
Try following your breathing to relax. Start at the quiet bottom of the breath at the belly. Then notice the bellows effect of the inhale and exhale. Then rest again in the quiet bottom. Then repeat just letting the breath come naturally without manipulating it. Then repeat again, and again, and again.
Starting with the foulest of foul, tobacco, for which there is no redeeming evidence. Indeed, between carbon monoxide and nicotine, cigs, pipes, chew and snuff are all losers. As soon as carbon monoxide gets absorbed into the bloodstream, it hooks up with hemoglobin making a serious dent – in some smokers as much as 50 percent – in this part of the red blood cell’s ability to haul fresh oxygen around the body.
And then there’s the stimulant nicotine that causes a false adrenalin rush which gets the heart rate cranking and the blood pressure soaring. Smoking hammers the heart in other ways too – lowers HDL (the good kind) cholesterol, deteriorates the elasticity of the largest blood vessel in the body, the aorta, which in turn increases risk for blood clots, and also aggravates and accelerates the development of atherosclerotic lesions in all arterial walls. In case the dots aren’t clear here, dysfunctional arteries lead directly to strokes and heart attacks.
Indeed, those who suck down a pack or more of smokes a day flirt with stroke at a rate two and a half times that of non-smokers.
Among people younger than 65 years, 44 percent of the strokes in men and 39 percent of those in women are caused by cigarette smoking. Compare that people 65 and older where 16 percent of strokes in men and 9 percent in women arise from tobacco use.
Cancer, of course, demands equal time when it comes to fall-out from tobacco. Tar from cigarettes lodges in the lungs and damages the genetic make-up (DNA) of cells that in turn makes it hard for cells to repair themselves. Not only do the alveoli sacs that exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide get destroyed, the little hair-like structures in the lungs – the cilia – are paralyzed and lose their function to sweep particles out of the lungs.
It’s the same tune in the mouth where more than 60 percent of throat, mouth and esophagus cancers arise from the effects of carbon monoxide and nicotine. Enough to make you want to step outside and grab a deep breath of fresh air – and we haven’t even gotten into how the realms where tobacco nails the immune and reproduction systems, not to mention those dealing with diabetes.
Alcohol, on the other hand, comes out a bit better than tobacco. We can have a little, say the experts whose studies have shown in very moderate amounts vintages and brews and even hard liquor may be somewhat beneficial to the heart. (Notice all the caveats – “may be”, “somewhat.”) All bets are off, of course, for women who are pregnant – at least for those not interested in risking a baby born with fetal alcohol syndrome.
Diabetics don’t fare much better when it comes to drink. Especially in those taking insulin or diabetic medicines like the sulfonylureas and meglitinides, alcohol can bring on hypoglycemia, or low blood glucose.
Even in the relatively healthy population, though, the reason physicians discourage excessive consumption is because immoderate levels of blood alcohol place extra demands almost every part of the body. The brain comes immediately to mind. Not only does alcohol depress the central nervous system and contracts brain tissue, it destroys brain cells which do not regenerate and can lead to cognition and memory problems.
The liver is often the next stop for health care providers explaining the untoward effects of booze on the body. It’s the organ that has to break down the alcohol. And the problem is that some products generated during alcohol metabolism, like acetaldehyde, are more toxic than the alcohol itself. In addition, a group of metabolic by-products called free radicals can damage liver cells and promote inflammation, impairing vital functions such as energy production. If that’s not enough, the body's natural defenses (like antioxidants) against free radicals can be inhibited by alcohol consumption. This sticky wicket leads to more liver damage and a vicious cycle that places bodies in direct line for nasty things likes hepatitis and cirrhosis among other ailments of the liver.
Heavy drinking and stroke are close bed-fellows as well, linked by alcohol’s tendency to cause high blood pressure (or hypertension) and a fast, irregular heart beat. High blood pressure puts a strain on the blood vessels, which can lead to the narrowing of arteries and the formation of blood clots. Hypertension is the single most important risk factor for stroke. More, a fast, irregular heart beat can cause erratic blood flow, which may lead to the formation of a blood clot. The danger is that clots can break loose and lodge themselves in the small vessels that supply the brain, blocking blood flow and causing one of the most dreaded of all conditions – stroke.
Irregular heart rate, hypertension, and blood clots are also hard on the heart, causing attacks and coronary disease. Further, since alcohol is a diuretic it increases urine output, making the kidneys work overtime. Thus, kidney failure can be a consequence of prolonged abuse of alcohol. The list goes on – inflammation of the stomach lining, cancers of the esophagus, pancreatic problems, infertility, impotence and menstrual irregularities and the often unmentioned depression.
Quite the litany of complaints against both alcohol and tobacco. The good news is that we live in an era in which people increasingly realize they must take responsibility for self care. Between that willingness and knowing some of the science behind our physicians’ admonishments, the admittedly bitter pill of having to change habits can go down a bit easier. And once we do, that glass of red or the rich dark porter will truly be a guilt-free pleasure.